Astros love Al­tuve’s ap­proach.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - SPORTS - BY KRISTIE RIEKEN

HOUS­TON - Jose Al­tuve hit .346 to win the Amer­i­can League bat­ting ti­tle for the sec­ond straight year be­fore bat­ting .533 in the ALDS to help the Hous­ton Astros elim­i­nate the Bos­ton Red Sox.

As Hous­ton pre­pares to host the New York Yan­kees on Fri­day night in Game 1 of its first league cham­pi­onship se­ries since 2005, Al­tuve’s team­mates and coaches say what’s bet­ter than his gaudy num­bers is his ap­proach: No mat­ter how great his stats are, he al­ways be­lieves he can do bet­ter.

“He has four hits and he’s like: ‘Car­los I never had a five-hit game be­fore, let me try to get the fifth hit,’” star short­stop Car­los Cor­rea said. “He’s al­ways striv­ing for more. And that’s what I’ve learned from him that makes me bet­ter ev­ery, sin­gle day.”

Al­tuve isn’t sure why he’s al­ways had that mind­set. It could stem from years ago when many doubted that some­one who is only 5-foot-6 could make it in the ma­jors. But he won’t ad­mit that now.

“That’s the way I am,” he said when asked about his drive. “I just want to keep get­ting bet­ter … if I can get bet­ter to keep help­ing my team I am go­ing to be happy to do it.”

Al­tuve is one of the long­est-tenured play­ers on this team and among a hand­ful who were around for the re­ally bleak times when the Astros lost 100 or more games in three straight sea­sons from 2011-’13. He was a ma­jor rea­son the Astros re­turned to the post­sea­son af­ter a 10-year ab­sence in 2015. But he didn’t have a great per­for­mance in those play­offs when he bat­ted just .154 with­out an ex­tra-base hit as Hous­ton was elim­i­nated by even­tual cham­pion Kansas City in the ALDS.

Things have been much dif­fer­ent this time around with Al­tuve car­ry­ing his big hit­ting into the play­offs with eight hits in the ALDS . He starred in Hous­ton’s Game 1 win over Bos­ton when he be­came just the 10th player in ma­jor league his­tory and first since 2012 to hit three homers in a play­off game. Babe Ruth did it twice. It was that game that helped give him a whop­ping 1.765 on base plus-slug­ging per­cent­age this post­sea­son.

But the all-star in­sists that he isn’t think­ing about any of the num­bers that he’s put up so far.

“The five-what­ever I hit last se­ries is al­ready gone,” he said. “It doesn’t count for this se­ries. So if some­one asks me what is your bat­ting av­er­age right now I would say: ‘It’s zero.’ I haven’t got a hit in the next se­ries so that’s the way I think right now.”

The Astros went 5-2 this year against the Yan­kees, who ral­lied from a 2-0 deficit and beat Cleve­land, 5-2, Wed­nes­day night in Game 5 of the ALDS.

Al­tuve is a front-runner to win MVP af­ter fin­ish­ing third last sea­son. The 27-year-old topped the ma­jors in hit­ting this year, has won the AL bat­ting crown in three of the last four sea­sons, and has had four straight 200-hit sea­sons to lead the AL in each of those years.

Man­ager A.J. Hinch, who has joked that he’s run­ning out of ways to com­pli­ment Al­tuve, was asked what he likes best about his star.

“Con­sis­tency,” Hinch said with­out miss­ing a beat. “It’s re­mark­able to watch him be con­sis­tent in ev­ery way. And a lot of times peo­ple will au­to­mat­i­cally go to hits, which is what we talk about is pro­duc­tion and hits and his abil­ity to do things ev­ery day.”

Al­tuve, who in the past has been more of a lead-by-ex­am­ple guy, has also started to as­sert him­self as one of the team’s more vo­cal lead­ers as he’s grown with this team.

“I think this is the right time to do it,” he said. “We just won a big se­ries. The Red Sox were one of the best teams in the league and I feel like this is the time for me to speak up and share the way I feel about my team.”

SHANNA LOCK­WOOD / USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Jose Al­tuve of the Astros hit an AL-lead­ing .346 dur­ing the sea­son and then bat­ted .533 against the Red Sox dur­ing the teams‘ di­vi­sion se­ries.

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